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Researchers explore sustainable materials like cotton and seawater for future battery technology, challenging traditional methods.

Researchers and companies are increasingly turning to unconventional materials such as burnt cotton and seawater to create sustainable battery technologies. The Japanese firm PJP Eye has developed a unique battery using carbon from burnt cotton. This method, which involves combusting cotton at high temperatures, is seen as more sustainable than traditional graphite anodes, as it makes use of textile industry waste.

The drive towards more eco-friendly batteries is fueled by the growing demand for batteries in electric vehicles and energy storage systems. Batteries are composed of three main components: anodes, cathodes, and an electrolyte. In PJP Eye's battery, carbon is used for the anode, while a base metal oxide forms the cathode. This battery offers a charging speed up to ten times faster than conventional lithium-ion batteries and has been integrated into an e-bike by Goccia and Hitachi.

Environmental concerns surrounding traditional battery materials like lithium and graphite, which have significant ecological footprints due to mining and processing, are pushing the search for alternatives. Stora Enso, a Finnish company, has created a battery anode from carbon derived from lignin in trees. Another area of exploration is using cotton as an alternative to the electrolyte in batteries, potentially leading to more stable, solid-state batteries.

Seawater is also being explored as a source of sustainable battery materials. A team led by Stefano Passerini at the Helmholtz Institute Ulm in Germany has developed a battery that extracts sodium ions from seawater. This innovative design uses seawater as the cathode, with a special polymer electrolyte facilitating the ion transfer.

From seawater to biowaste and natural pigments, there is a long list of potential alternatives in nature that would be much more widely available – the hard part is proving that any of them can realistically compete with the kinds of batteries already on the market, which are seemingly so indispensable in our gadget-strewn world.

The research extends to other natural materials like calcium, found in bones and teeth, as a potential cathode material, possibly in combination with silicon. Furthermore, researchers are investigating the use of biological pigments, corn waste, and melon seed shells for creating new types of battery electrodes.

However, scaling these alternative materials to meet the burgeoning demands of the battery industry remains a significant challenge. According to the BBC, the expected increase in demand for graphite by 2030 underscores the difficulty of replacing traditional battery materials. Despite these challenges, consumer interest in sustainability might propel the adoption of batteries made with biowaste-derived carbon or other eco-friendly materials.

The exploration of sustainable materials like cotton, seawater, and biowaste for battery production reflects a growing emphasis on environmental stewardship in technology. These efforts are not only aimed at reducing the ecological impact of batteries but also at keeping pace with the increasing need for efficient and high-performance batteries across various sectors.

Eunice is a sustainability writer whose passion is sharing accessible eco-friendly practices with GreenCitizen's global readership. She enjoys birdwatching during her downtime, often deriving inspiration from nature's resilience. An enthusiastic cyclist, she is also an ardent advocate of eco-friendly transport.

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